Before my Hike through Florida last month, I contacted some troops in towns along the trail. I hoped to visit with the scouts, share some hiking stories and advice, and encourage them to get out and enjoy the trail in their neighborhood.
I wound up visiting with four troops along the way, and almost one Pack, but it didn't work out. These visits were highlights of my trek and gave me the opportunity to meet fellow scouters, and watch other troops in action.
Close Call in Dade City
The difficulty with arranging a visit while hiking long distances is not knowing how long it will take to reach a location. For example, maybe it's Thursday and I'd like to reach a town on the next Tuesday. If the trail is easier than expected, my legs are strong, and I get up extra early, I might arrive on Sunday. On the other hand, a rough trail, a couple big rain storms, and a few bad nights sleeping might slow me down to Wednesday.
Walking west from Kissimmee, I was hoping to meet the adventurous cub scouts of Pack 301 in Dade City. The hope was I could visit a pack meeting on Monday night. But, I was flying down the trail and would arrive easily by Saturday night. I couldn't just slow my pace or take days off and waste two days of hiking.
So, texting my contact in the pack, we looked at having me join them on their campout on Saturday night. I thought that would be cool, since it didn't matter to me if I camped in my tent in this woods or that woods. It would be fun to tell some stories around the campfire, with Purple Gorilla being one of my favorites.
I thought we had logistics worked out so I picked up my pace a bit for a couple days. I would hike an extra 1.5 miles off trail to a trailhead where someone would pick me up and drop me off the next morning. Unfortunately, no one could be found to do the shuttle. As it turned out, the temperature dropped below freezing that Saturday night and only two scouts camped out. Oh well.
Strong Inverness Scouting
Just two short days later, I arrived in Inverness where I had arranged to meet two troops. Having missed the Dade City scouts, I was really looking forward to this.
I hiked with my cousin's son for the 22 miles into Inverness, moving fast and arriving with a couple hours to rest in a city park before the scoutmaster could pick me up. When he got off work, we went out for a quick dinner with his son and daughter, then off to their troop meeting.
The local Inverness Kiwanis group has just built a new scout hut for Troop 302 and Troop 457 to use. The troops meet on different nights of the week, so it works out great. When I visited, they had a special joint meeting so I could chat with scouts from both troops.
Their scout hut is very, very nice! I'm envious whenever I see a unit with their own meeting place since troops and packs I've volunteered with meet in church basements or school cafeterias. The local support of groups like the Kiwanis helps keep scouting strong and vibrant in communities.
It was a lot of fun talking quickly about my hike, my gear, people and animals I met on the trail, and then answering the dozens of questions. Lots of questions means there is interest, so I really enjoyed that part of the evening. After the meeting, I was allowed to sleep overnight in the scout hut which was a great bonus - I didn't have to set up and pack up my tent. It was fun to meet John and Steve, the two scoutmasters, and get a flavor of how their troops run. All the scouts were polite and attentive.
Well, I don't know if they call them potlucks in Florida, but I got to enjoy two of them! When I reached Ocala, the scoutmaster of Troop 331 met me on the trail. We had been conversing through email for a few weeks, so it was great to finally meet her. Sue is one of those dedicated scouting volunteers that lives scouting full-time. Troop 331 is a special needs troop, so there tends to be more parent support needed and Sue throws herself into the challenge. She has a ton of support from the other dozen or so parents and they all seem to work well together for the good of their kids.
Before meeting the scouts, I had made a big assumption - I assumed this was a boy scout troop like any other I've visted, just with disabled boys. There is no age limit for scouts with disabilities, so I was surprised to find that the average age of the scouts in Troop 331 must be somewhere around 30. I laughed at myself for making assumptions, yet again.
These guys were great! Outgoing, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, ... pretty much everything you'd hope to see in a group of scouts. Sure, some were withdrawn a bit, some were difficult for my unaccustomed ears to understand, and some had repetitive habits that I noticed. But, they were funny. They were fun. They were sincere, welcoming, and proud of their scouting accomplishments. As a matter of fact, one of them (who is 46 years old) will be having his Eagle ceremony on Feb. 27 after working hard to reach that goal.
My time with Troop 331 was a whirlwind of activity. I got a shower, then we met at Gretchen's home for a potluck - and Gretchen's birthday party! Gretchen is a scout's mom and another super person. I got to meet all the scouts - Kale, Chris, Michael, Shawn, Brandon, Eric, Chris, Michael - that could be there, and chat with each of them. After we ate, I was asked to talk a bit about my hiking. There weren't as many questions as I got in Inverness, but it was fun to share my trip. I gave each scout a spoof merit badge that reminded me of them - a super scout, fun meter, smiley face, thumbs up - and some stickers. But, then we got on to the more important activity of celebrating Gretchen's birthday with cake!
The next day, many of the scouts came to Sue's home (where I was staying) and we all had potluck breakfast together. After that, we invaded the local bowling alley for a few games. I'll let you know that I did not get the high score. These guys had been practicing!
Please check out the Disabilities Awareness page at scouting.org for more information on making scouting in your community inclusive.
That evening, I had the pleasure of visiting one more Florida troop - Troop 100. Troop 100 has another very nice scout hut in which to meet - jealous again. The scouts were all in uniform and this struck me as a well-run outfit. Their SPL, Chris, was exceptionally well-mannered and confident. Manners are something I've really noticed here in Florida - lots of "yes, sir", "please", and "thank you" stuff going on all the time.
We ate some food and I talked with the scoutmaster and other adults awhile. It was enjoyable just sitting around with some other men for awhile since I hadn't had the luxury of doing that for the past few weeks. Then, I presented my hike to everyone, followed by a few questions. But, it was getting late so we kept it pretty short.
My impressions of Scouting in Florida:
- Manners are used more than other places.
- Uniforms are worn more than other places.
- Units that are surviving, are not just surviving - they are doing very well. They are active and flourishing.
- Some units are not surviving - recent changes in BSA have resulted in lost charters and loss of members in this area.
- Each troop is unique, just like other places - based mostly on the direction of the involved adults.
- Councils are having difficulties with running business as usual, just like other places, and are consolidating.
- Scouts camp more in the winter when the weather is more pleasant, much different than what I'm used to.
It was a great experience meeting these Scouts and Scouters.
Posted: 12:16 02-24-2016 1267
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